In the current online film commentary culture, there is no more prevailing influence on fandom than the Star Wars franchise. Even more particularly is the undying love and borderline obsession many writers have with Star Wars Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Which is quite strange given the film is not very good and a totally pale imitation of Star Wars (1977).
One of the major issues with the film is on the story front. Whereas the first film was a reimagining of classic story structures infused with the occasional dash of originality, this film, especially early, is large part interminable love story. The soapie style dialogue and Leia/Han shenanigans clunk badly, mainly because they are drearily written with no spark whatsoever. Not to mention that this is all part of love-triangle predicated on a premise I’m not sure can ever hold up on re-watch once you are aware of all the revelations that the trilogy contains. It is made to feel even worse because it is contrasted with the friendship between Luke and Han that is fully established and expressed in a way by the two characters that actually feels genuine. So the human stuff is meh for the most part. The saving grace though is the development of Vader as the villain at the heart of these films. Here he continues to establish himself as a legitimately evil, throat constricting dude. Not to mention we get to glimpse him under the helmet for the first time which is totally badass. The story does pick up a little once the main parties split, with Luke pursuing training with Yoda whilst Han and Leia do their own thing. In part this is merely based on the fact that the love triangle elements are relegated so we do not have to endure the worst elements of the dialogue. It’s a shame that overall the story is not quite there, because there are some really interesting psychological aspects to what is going on, especially in Luke’s relationship with the dark side.
The film also makes plain some issues that were hinted at in the first film, perhaps due to the fact this one does not have the same simple, yet forceful narrative structure to get by on. There is no real depth to the world building which is glaring here. It’s simply just the odd cool creature or a different landscape. A procession of worlds with surface level quirks essentially, no mythos underlying that. The ship design holds up better, perhaps because we are really just after stuff that looks rad rather than anything deeper. The design relies on riffing on both classic sci-fi ideas and expanding on what we saw in the first film. That said, the combat does not have the same weight as that in the first film. It is especially hurt by an over-computerised sheen (though as with all things Star Wars, who knows if it looked that bad in the original release). Plus there is a severe lack of good set pieces in this movie, which overall lacks in the cool action stakes. The music is still totally brilliant though and it helps to make the best moments of the film pop. Think the tune that heralds Vader’s arrival every time, a conceit that could have gone totally wrong, but thankfully enhances that character’s presence greatly.
Verdict: The Empire Strikes Back is not all bad, but frankly a fair amount of it is. And given its current reputation it’s frankly hard not to consider this one of the most overrated films of all time. The film sorely misses the classicism and especially clarity of the first film’s storytelling. And it’s a bummer, because this film contains one of cinema’s all-time iconic moments. But unfortunately it just exists in a not very good flick. Schooner of Carlton Draught
Like everyone, Star Wars has been on my mind of late. So when I saw the original trilogy pretty cheap on VHS a while back I snapped them up, for a more faithful(ish) experience compared to the far too tinkered with blu-rays that are out there. These were never formative films for me in the way that they were for so many others, or the way the James Bond films or Jurassic Park (1993) were for me. I saw them as a kid, recalled liking them, but that was the extent of it.
For me, Star Wars (1977) is miles away the best film in this franchise. It delivers a lean narrative, heavily influenced by classical adventure story tropes, with a sense of fun. It goes character intros (without labouring unnecessary mythology), a big action beat, regroup, bigger action beat. It really is as simple as that. But within that structure Lucas delivers a film that would spawn a legacy probably unmatched in some ways in film history. That the storytelling feels so informed by classical tales is not altogether a bad thing. Lucas is repackaging beats that have been go-tos for centuries, but making them feel at least a little inspired. It helps that with all the classical inspiration, the film is also happy to do a few unconventional things. For example, Darth Vader is revealed in no time flat. Most films would hold that back for an age, whereas this one sends him out front and centre within five minutes. The world-building of the film is an interesting aspect. We are exposed to different worlds early on and that is effective. But it’s based totally on design and physical details (or often a single physical detail) rather than any level of in-depth world-building.
Carrie Fisher gives the pick of the performances and gets reasonable screen time to go along with that, unlike Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015). Her badarse heroine s is perhaps the most original feeling character too. As good as the characters of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are, they are very much archetypes. Lucas’ propensity for kiddie characters is apparent from the get-go too, though not overbearingly so. It’s one of the paradoxes of the Star Wars phenomenon I guess that those characters are pretty interminable in the movies, but also played a large part in driving the phenomenon that the series would become. This one is more of an ensemble piece than I recall, with Obi-Wan and the droids playing large parts, along with the three central figures. Given our current CGI saturation, the effects in Star Wars jar initially. But that fades quite quickly as the artistry, particularly in the model work, becomes apparent. That level of design artistry is so important, because let’s face it some of the character design could have gone so wrong. Designs like those of C3PO or Vader, could have looked totally silly if they were not executed so very well.
Of all the achievements of this film (and I think the original trilogy more broadly), it is John Williams’ score that may be the pinnacle. By now truly iconic, in the world of the film it is so lush and heightening. It’s not just that the score is so damn good, it’s that Lucas uses it so well. The introduction of the character of Luke, such an important moment for the entire franchise, is basically made by the soundtrack. The sound design is similarly exceptional, the whooshes of the dogfights obviously, as well as smaller flourishes like Vader’s laboured breathing. The editing though has the bemusing quality of a film student looking to impress. It is distracting and recalls Homer Simpson’s obsession with star wipes so much that I was almost a little bummed we didn’t see one here.
Verdict: Star Wars is a film of simple charms –clear adventure storytelling, a worthwhile set of sci-fi worlds, decent characters and great space-set dogfights. Here, George Lucas delivers those charms in a way that he, or anyone else, has never been able to replicate since. Pint of Kilkenny
There are plenty of good spoiler-free reviews for the film doing the rounds including from Drew McWeeney at Hitfix, Matt Singer at Screencrush, Jen Yamato at The Daily Beast and Eric Vespe at Aint it Cool news among many others. This is not one of them though. I didn’t really feel I could write a substantial review without going into details. So just in case the title did not make this clear, this review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015). Do not read until after you have seen the film, or unless you don’t really care about having it spoiled. Feel free to discuss spoilers in the comments below now I’ve given the warning for those who need it.
One more warning. Spoilers coming your way after this poster.
Headline statement: I quite liked it and I think major Star Wars fans will love it. So don’t let anything take I say take away from that. And whilst I had an absolute blast watching it in my early morning session at the cinema, the further away I get from the film, the more its issues dominate in my mind. Basically for this mild fan of the franchise, it was a good but definitely not great experience. There are plenty scripting issues. It’s exposition heavy and the story totally plods along, taking far too much time. And frankly it feels like a remake at times so often have we seen a lot of these story moments. This is perhaps my major issue. The story, despite some different dressing, is the Death Star take 3. Nothing about the plot feels new with one or two exceptions. I have heard a number of people liken this to Creed (2015). I get the comparison, but for me it’s off the mark. Sure Creed has a similar structure to the earlier Rocky films. But it puts much more of a new spin on them, rather than rehashing large tracts of them wholesale. On the plus side for the script, I did think that the humour was a real strong suit. BB-8 will be a marketer’s dream and Abrams keeps the kiddiness in check. Abrams is also much better at characters than Lucas and it is the new characters that stick with you. Not such a bad thing for a continuing franchise. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a hero I hope to see in more films, whilst John Boyega’s Finn has a really fresh arc that I don’t think we have seen before. A defecting Stormtrooper adds depth to his part and is something genuinely new. The performances overall are good. I thought both Oscar Isaac and Carrie Fisher were excellent, though much under-used. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is the real lead from the old guard, and he is having fun here and not phoning it in at all.
This brings us to the elephant in the room. Luke Skywalker is not in this film. Well he is, but for legitimately less than a minute. That feels a little cheap given the marketing push around the stars of the original trilogy return. I will be utterly intrigued as to how this is received amongst Star Wars fandom. Feels like we were promised something that was not delivered. Even for me, this was a major negative as the continued wish to have him injected into the action failed to materialise. This is all coming off a bit negative, and there were lots of things I did enjoy. John Williams does his Star Wars thing and it a really impressive accompaniment to the action. It’s comfortably the best looking film of the series, as it should be. The ships are great, though I could have used more dogfighting action. The action that is there was perhaps not integrated into the stakes of the story as good as it could have been. Definitely on the plus side was the establishment of the villainous First Order. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a bit of a dud. Well he looks cool and it’s a good performance. But again, this feels like a total rehash. He’s Han and Leia’s son, and all the same family issues from the original trilogy come to the fore. But I like the fact that there are three main villains and that there are factions and ruptures amongst them. It will be interesting to see how Ren and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux interact in the next couple of entries.
Verdict: In the end the story for The Force Awakens was lacking for me, as was the freshness. You know, caught up in the moment, I had a blast. As I reflect back on it, I think it’s a little underwhelming. But the film does leave the series in a good place for Episodes 8 and 9 to launch from, especially with the new characters and the First Order well established. Stubby of Reschs
You could be forgiven for missing the fact that Marvel’s Star Wars #1 hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago. In a year that will be fit to bursting with Star Wars hype left right and centre, it was strangely muted on my Twitter and elsewhere that this book was being launched. I would be curious to see how the sales stacked up. The owner of my local comic book store told me that there were a mind-boggling 15 or so variant covers, so Marvel were obviously expecting a fair amount of rabid fan interest.
I grabbed a copy when I saw it down at the local. I didn’t take notes or anything whilst reading through, but here are some brief thoughts on what I liked and what I didn’t. Anyone else read this?
Things I liked:
- The art on feature panels/pages (Vader’s first appearance, the final page) is really sharply done and suggests the grandest moments of the films.
- They get the character design about right. They look close, but not too close to the actors who play them in the films
- Atmosphere – this feels like a Star Wars story. There is a comforting familiarity to it that is not present in the worst Star Wars productions.
Things I didn’t:
- The tone – whilst it feels like Star Wars, something is just slightly off about the tone. The lightness or comedic shading not quite right. Han’s interactions with C3PO for example, really don’t zing like they should.
- Some of the panels outside of the feature ones I mentioned above range from the bland to the downright shoddy.
- The comic is a victim of its construction. The fact it takes place immediately following episode IV means that whilst the beats will be unfamiliar, there is little tension in terms of the overall arc. We know where this story and where all of these characters end up. That’s not fatal, many prequels have the same issue. But future issues will need to overcome this to make it feel fresher and more necessary.
Verdict: This is an ok start. No doubt any big Star Wars fans have already snapped it up. But I would recommend it for anyone with the slightest interest in the films. If anything, following this comic and the other Star Wars titles that will pepper the year will help get you involved in the hype for Episode VII. Having said that, whilst I will return to the series, I will want to see a bit more from it if I am going to for out every month. Stubby of Reschs
You may have heard somewhere around the internet that a little trailer dropped over the last 24 hours. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) is probably the biggest film event of the past 30 years, so their was much anticipation for it. On the absurdly small chance you haven’t seen it, check it out below. It’s been surprising how little smug dismissiveness there has been towards the trailer which is so rare these days. But you can see why, it is a pretty enticing piece of work. I like it a lot. Visually it feels exactly like a sequel to the original trilogy should. There are flashes of storm troopers, lightsabers and droids, to get all the old fans giddy with excitement. Now if I can somehow avoid endless spoilers for the next year and a bit, I will go into this one with a high sense of anticipation. What do all you folk think about it?